Foxtail Lily Bulbs: Growing Foxtail Lilies In Your Garden

By Nikki Phipps

Image by Patrick Quinn-Graham

Foxtail lilies make stunning garden plants, reaching heights of 6-7 feet tall. When in bloom, foxtail lilies are exquisite springtime show-stoppers. Read on for more information about foxtail lily bulbs and find out how to plant Eremurus bulbs in the garden.

What are Foxtail Lily Bulbs?

The foxtail lily, or desert candle (Eremurus elwesii), is native to Turkestan. Although the foxtail lily belongs to the genus Eremurus, which is a member of the lily family, it is a rather unusual bulbous plant. In fact, the foxtail lily’s roots are more like that of most other perennials, spreading or fanning out in all directions rather than from one single bulb or tuber. These tuberous roots grow in clumps, eventually producing bristly, succulent leaves that are topped with tapered spikes of white flowers in late spring. Other types may include orange, yellow or pink blooms.

Its genus name means ‘tall’ and though there are a dozen or so species existing, they are not often used in gardens. Instead, species of foxtail lilies are often more popular with professional growers and used as cut flowers. These bottlebrush-shaped flower spikes can last up to several weeks when cut.

Regardless of their popularity with professionals, however, these plants do make lovely additions in a home garden environment. Use them as accents in the back of mixed beds or borders. Here are some commonly grown species for the garden:

  • E. robustus – This species is a native of Turkestan with stunning soft-pink spikes. Because of its mammoth height (7 ft), it may require staking, especially in wind-prone sites. This species has shorter hybrids available in a wider range of colors as well – from salmons and pinks to yellows and oranges.
  • E. bungei – This is one of the smallest of the species, only 2-3 feet tall. This plant is native to Turkestan as well as Afghanistan with beautiful wand-like spikes of yellow flowers.
  • E. stenophyllus – This type produces spikes of yellow or golden yellow blossoms.
  • E. himalaicus – A native of the Himalayas, this species reaches 4-8 feet tall and has beautiful white flowers hovering over medium green foliage.

Growing Foxtail Lilies

The foxtail lily enjoys full sun in well-drained, fertile or sandy soil enriched with compost. However, this plant will grow well in a wide range of soil types provided there is adequate drainage. The foxtail lily dislikes drought; therefore, it shouldn’t be allowed to dry out. Good drainage is especially important in the winter time.

Plant the tuberous roots in the fall approximately 4-6 inches deep with at least 2-3 feet of spacing between plants. For best results, make a wide, shallow hole. Take extreme care when planting this tuberous root, as it does not like being disturbed. The tuberous roots are quite brittle and should be handled carefully. In addition, keep its crown within a couple inches of the soil surface but cover the remaining tuberous roots well.

Care of Foxtail Lily

Once the plant is established, it becomes quite hardy so the care of foxtail lily will be little with exception to watering, especially under drought-like conditions.

You may also want to mulch your foxtail lily bulbs with straw or other suitable material, especially during the first few winters to protect its tender tubers.

While they don’t like being disturbed, growing foxtail lilies can be lifted once overcrowding has occurred. Carefully divide the tuberous roots and replant elsewhere.

Foxtail lilies and related species usually do not suffer from pest problems or disease; however, slugs and snails may be a source of trouble for young, newly grown plants. In addition, they may be prone to root rot if the soil becomes too moist or if plants are overcrowded.